kristen reNae

travel

Rome

r o m e

Now, Rome. We had planned on doing a day trip to Civita di Bagnoregio. It’s a beautiful town located on a secluded hill – much different from prior towns. However, it would have been partly closed down due to the “off-season”. So, we decided to leave Tuscany a day early and head to Rome. Our intentions were to drop off the car at the airport and shuttle it over to our hotel. Mind you, we didn’t have GPS the entire trip, so what we thought was going to be a simple trip to the airport, quickly became a headache.

You would think there would be signs everywhere for their international airport, or at least the little airplane icon like they do in the states, but we had no such luck. While this was extremely stressful, it turned out to be the best part! We got to see almost all of the iconic Rome tourist sites. I was too sidetracked to take pictures, but I was completely blown away and extremely excited for our adventures the next day!

We were lost for a good hour and by the time we made it to the airport to drop off the car, we were in no mood to do more exploring. So, we attempted to get the hotel shuttle back to the hotel, that didn’t work, so we managed to get a taxi for a “flat rate”. I’m sure we got scammed, but we were in no mood to deal with it.

We made it to our hotel, which was a Marriott, and we were immediately impressed! They had some of the best service I think I’ve ever had! We entertained the free drink tickets they provided us and immediately tried to unwind from the craziness of the day. We decided that this was our day of relaxation and tomorrow would be a full day of Rome.

The next day we woke up early to catch our shuttle into downtown Rome. It was only about a 30-minute drive, which wasn’t too bad (considering it cost us 10 euros round trip – very well worth it)! The bus drops you off next to massive monuments and buildings which was a bit overwhelming, and yet so beautiful and breathtaking.

If there is one thing that you have to do while in Rome, what would it be? The first thing that came to mind was the Colosseum. So, we immediately headed there to hopefully be the first in line… but that didn’t happen. We wanted to stop for coffee, and by recommendation, we stopped for some iced coffee called coffee granita (try it with the whipped cream!) at Tazza D’oro. We ordered expressos and pastries, everything was delightful (besides the roman service).

Luckily, this place was right next to the Pantheon. It is free to enter, so we did a short tour inside.

After all of this, we finally made it over to the Colosseum and I was blown away! There wasn’t much of a line, however, it was freezing! The sun was out but we didn’t have time to warm up, so it was a little hard to concentrate on the audio tour we purchased. Regardless, it was amazing! If we make it back again, I would for sure get the extended tour where you get to go on every level!

Along with the colosseum ticket purchase, you also get the Roman Forum. This actually had a longer line, but it was worth it. Once you enter, you seriously need the map, because it is enormous! There was so much to see over a vast amount of landscape and it would be worth an audio tour for an explanation as to what you are looking at. We didn’t want to spend too much time in here as we had a lot more planned, so we headed out to our next stop.

Before our next stop, we grabbed a bite to eat at Il Grillo Brillo, another recommendation. (I can’t say that I would recommend this place.) After our last Italian meal, we headed over to the Trevi Fountain. Another enormous and beautiful monument! Although, it was difficult to actually enjoy as there were way too many people trying to take pictures.

Next up, the Spanish steps. Gorgeous and overrun with tourists and locals shopping the after new year sales along the strip, we managed to take a seat in the sun and enjoy the moment.

We had intentions of not leaving until 7 pm, however, we had conquered the majority of our day and it was only 4pm. So, we decided to run over to Vatican City for some pictures.

On our way back, we walked through the same pavilion we entered. And upon recommendation, we were looking for a specific dessert place called I Tre Scalini to try their Chocolate Tartufo with whipped cream. But wouldn’t you know that once we finally located it, it was closed for the season. Luckily, the place right next door had the same dessert and it was perfect! And again, so worth it. We managed to get back to the hotel by 530 with enough time to enjoy an appetizer and wine while reminiscing over our day with enough time to rest before packing up for our long day of travel.

We walked a total of 90 miles in Italy! Enjoyed tons of Italian food and wine.

Created memories for a lifetime. Took too many pictures. And I’m still in awe.

Cheers!

San Gimignano + Italian Cooking Class

s a n  g i m i g n a n o

The first day trip we took out of Florence was San Gimignano, you can see more pictures and read about it here. It was only a two hour bus ride and only cost about seven Euros per person. It was totally worth the adventure! And little did we know how much more we were going to get to experience San Gimignano.

After our week in Florence, we had planned to stay in a small tuscany town called Gebbia. You can read here why that didn’t work out so well. However, when we were there, we had several day trips planned, and one of them was for an Italian cooking class.

I was very much looking forward to this experience, as it had been on my bucket list forever! It was on the outskirts of San Gimignano, but we felt pretty confident that we could find the place (insert laughter now).

We left with more than enough time in the event that we got lost. However, navigating the streets of Italy is not an easy task (especially without a GPS). As soon as we drove up to our destination, it wasn’t to be found. It seriously took an additional 45 minutes of us driving back and forth down the same road, passing our final destination at least 5 times. Needless to say, we finally made it, but were terribly late.

Once we arrived at Il Vicario, our hostess, Katia and the other four guests were just beginning. So we washed up and threw on aprons for our hands-on-experience. We began with only one egg, a pinch of salt, and some flour. THREE ingredients to make some killer pasta!

We ended up making two different shapes of pasta, two sauces (one a classic tomato and another white bean – trust me, it would surprise you!), more than enough bruschetta to go around, a bread salad, a cheese appetizer, and last but not least, tiramisu! And after we finished up, we got to sit around the table and enjoy it all with a couple bottles of wine.

We seriously couldn’t have asked for a better group or class to do it with. And the crazy navigating just added to the joy of it all! And to end the day, we still needed to find another place for the evening that had Wi-Fi. Luckily, we were 10 minutes down the road from the center of San Gimignano, so we had an excellent recommendation of a place to stay.

Originally it was recommended that we eat at Bel Soggiorno, and when we visited the first time, it seemed like it was closed for off-season. However, after the cooking class we drove into town and were able to get a room at their hotel.

And honestly it couldn’t have been better. We had a gorgeous view to wake up to… and fortunately, it wasn’t the last time we would be there.

While wondering the streets of San Gimignano for some food, we decided to go off the main road and came upon an elderly gentleman. He was actually the father of the owner of Osteria Baccano and ultimately persuaded me to eat there.

He explained that the meaning of the restaurant name was “noisy tourist”, which he scolded his son for, but made us laugh. He explained that a woman from Portland visited often and they became friends, and that’s how he picked up speaking English.

We were the first to dine for the day, but by the time we left the place was packed! So we definitely picked one of the best restaurants to eat at!

We ended up staying in San Gimignano for a couple nights before we decided to head to Rome for a couple days. Although it wasn’t planned, it was such a beautiful experience!

Tuscany Day Trips + Wine Tasting

t u s c a n y

Our second half of our holiday trip in Italy was in a small village called Gebbia, outside of Civitella in di Chiana. We arrived a bit early, so we explored the almost abandoned Civitella. After our short walk around the city, we drove up the hill about 15 minutes to our even smaller village.

While waiting for the Airbnb host, we opened a bottle of wine and enjoyed it with some cheese and prosciutto while taking in the amazing view. It wasn’t too long (a bottle of wine later) that our host arrived and showed us the unit.



We absolutely loved the serenity. A drastic change from the streets of downtown Florence. No screeching ambulances or people yelling at three in the morning. Just peacefulness. It was all great, until we attempted to access the internet. This was a mandatory item due to work, so with some power lines down, we had to find a backup plan.

The next two evenings were a bit eventful trying to make sure each place had a decent connection. That evening we scurried over to a hotel in Arezzo for the night. And we witnessed the most beautiful sunset…

s i e n a

The following day, we scheduled another day trip to Siena. It was only about an hour drive from Arezzo. A much bigger town with a little bit more action going on.

We climbed the tower to have a 360-degree view over the city. It was a bit chilly, but beautiful. Afterwards, we roamed the city streets, checking out all of the history and old architecture.

On another recommendation, we stumbled upon Antica Osteria da Divo for lunch. We debated as the kitchen had just opened, but since they usually seat based on reservation, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity. And I would have to say that hands down that was the best service that we had our entire visit. Our server and sommelier took great pride in everything. Our food was prepared perfectly, and the presentation from the wine to the dessert, was beyond excellent!

The following few days were relaxing. We didn’t have any crazy New Year’s Eve plans, so we researched different events around our village. And as a last minute decision, we made reservations in the small Civitella by Gebbia.

NYE was definitely unexpected! We had dinner plans, but didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. The woman who took our reservation suggested nine, but didn’t give an explanation as to why, so we asked for an earlier time and she agreed. When we showed up for our reservation, the restaurant door was still locked – which we thought was unusual, but not completely out of the ordinary considering everything we had run into thus far.

A woman proceeded to open the door where we were led in to choose our table. At this time, our waitress (who spoke English) explained how NYE dinner works – they do not have multiple reservations, but rather the gathering is intimate and a celebration. They plan the evening completely from start to finish, from nine to midnight. We were provided a NYE menu, in which we thought we would choose from the pre-fixed menu… we were wrong. There were 12 items on the list, and we got to eat everything! After about the third appetizer, I was full, but we had so much more to go.

When the dessert comes, it is customary to go outside and watch the fireworks and toast champagne in the streets and then return to your table for your last glass of champagne and then an expresso or cappuccino. We didn’t realize until the end of dinner, that we were on the floor with the owner’s family. So, needless to say, we stuck out like a sore thumb. But we had so much fun, and will forever cherish the memories and tradition we experienced.

The next day, we had a full day planned ahead for another day trip. We adventured off to Montepulciano, Pienza, and Montalcino. All pretty close to each other.

m o n t e p u l c i a n o

Montepulciano was bigger than expected! We were traveling in off-season and here it was the most noticeable. We ventured off into the streets and came upon our first wine shop. After browsing around, we were invited to visit their cave below the storefront. This was awesome! It not only was a wine cellar, but basically a museum. Full of old farm tools, an olive making press, and aging cheese! A very awesome and unexpected adventure!

After this, we decided to explore more of the town. I had allotted two hours, but apparently we needed a bit more. So, unfortunately with our meter running out, we were unable to stop in any of the winery shops to do a tasting. This is one town I would like to see during the on-season – so that will be another trip to plan for.

p i e n z a

After Montepulciano, we headed down the road to Pienza. I read that it was maybe nine blocks long, so I knew we wouldn’t be here long. Especially considering how the last city was.

Alas, I was completely wrong. This little town was full of tourists! We attempted to go into a couple cheese shops to get some of the Pecorino cheese they are famous for, but were not welcomed by any means. So we walked the streets and took some pictures and grabbed some cheese on our way out from another (not so famous store). Overall, a nice, quick visit, but the experience could have been better.

c h a p e l  o f  o u r  l a d y  v i t a l e t a

From Pienza to Montalcino, you are driving through beautiful tuscan hills, sprinkled with cypress trees and old farm houses. As we were driving, we came across the Chapel of our Lady Vitaleta. We originally thought we had already missed it, so we were excited when we saw it in the distance. It was so amazing to see this in person!

m o n t a l c i n o

Next stop, Montalcino! I thought this town couldn’t possibly have as much charm as Montepulciano, considering the size, however, I was way wrong. They had a bit better view from their hilltop and a beautiful tower with their Christmas tree out front (still playing Christmas music)! But just as many stores were closed (more closed than open) but we managed to run across a wine bar, which thankfully we had a young gentleman there, Paolo, help us out.

After a small tasting, we walked a few doors down to a restaurant which had a magnificent view. Our server paired our lunch with a tasting of their Brunello wines they are famous for. The wine and food did not disappoint! After our late lunch, we explored the empty streets until sunset. I would definitely visit again!

w i n e  t a s t i n g

c a p a n n e l l e

g a i o l e  i n  c h i a n t i

Poggio Antico in Montalcino and Avignonesi in Montepulciano were both recommended wineries. Unfortunately, they were both not available due to it being off-season during our visit. So, on another recommendation (and another day), we were able to make a reservation at Capannelle in Gaiole In Chianti. 

Almost impossible to find, but we managed to get their right on time! Once we arrived, our host introduced herself and immediately started the tour. Their boutique winery also offers a small resort for a short stay or special events.

The tour included a brief overview of their grounds and history before we proceeded downstairs. Here, they make wine, store their barrels + aging bottles, and a very VIP wine vault! We learned a lot about the details that are included in their process.

After the tour, we were taken back upstairs where our tasting was to begin. When we made a reservation, our initial thought was due to the low-season, they wanted to make sure they had the appropriate staff. However, we had no idea that you get your personal one-on-one host to take you through the process! It was such a genuine experience, and honestly, I wish all wine tasting was done this way!

Such a great experience being able to travel through the tuscan hills and visit so many villages. Each adventure was unique in it’s own way and I loved every piece of it.

 

c h e e r s